Can Solution Focused Brief Therapy do harm? 2019 Már 07

I’m often asked if Solution Focused Brief Therapy can do any harm and my usual reply is no – when it goes wrong the therapist just looks stupid. The client might not have been helped but will not have been ‘damaged’ by the therapist’s ineptitude. So here are some of the stupid things a Solution Focused Brief Therapist can do hopefully without doing harm to anything but their reputation.

When he asks you what your best hopes are from the therapy he can get irritated when you tell him not what you want tomorrow but what you went through yesterday. You will know this is happening when you hear him say “Yes, but…” As this is likely to be in the first few minutes of the session it does not auger well for a successful outcome and probably the best thing to do is leave. This will be very annoying, disappointing and time-wasting but you will know that you did the right thing.

Another good time to walk out is when he asks you to imagine a miracle happens in the night that makes your life perfect. It’s very unlikely that you were expecting therapy to make your life perfect; more likely that you had just come along to see if you could make it a little more bearable. Again it would be annoying and disappointing but still a good idea to decline further involvement with such naïve and unrealistic therapist.

Still with miracles (which can be a perfectly useful and even fun way to open up the imagination to life’s possibilities) when you are asked to imagine a future in which your hopes from the therapy are being realised you might find it easier to begin by stating what you would like to have less of in your life (e.g. arguments, depression, bad memories, panics, lack of motivation, sleeplessness, etc.) to which the therapist should listen carefully and sympathetically before asking what you would like to see replacing these unwanted parts of your experience. If the therapist is just sympathetically listening and doesn’t ask what you would like to put in the place of these unwanted aspects of your life, think about the door – his job is to ask questions that lead you to see the future differently and knowing what you don’t want is little help in finding out what you do want. However, if he becomes irritated that you are replying with information about your problems – and you will know this when you hear him say “Yes, but…” definitely walk out. Again the disappointment and even anger will be far outweighed by the personal achievement of standing up against stupidity.

If you have got this far without encountering therapist stupidity you might think about being a little more generous towards the stupidities that will inevitably come. Even an experienced therapist might be flummoxed by your situation and in an attempt to act as if he knows what he is doing he might ask a particularly stupid question. This may take several forms but you will know it has been asked when you hear your answer: “If I knew that I’d be doing it!” Only a very generous client would put up with hearing themselves give this answer more than twice.

Solution Focused Brief Therapy works by asking questions that you have never been asked before so that you hear yourself say things that you have never said before. When it works it is because you have said something that somehow opens up a new idea or doorway in your life. Even the most brilliant therapist cannot know what doorways might be there or what answers might unlock them – it is a bit like a fishing expedition: there is definitely lots of fantastic answers down there but no guarantee that the therapist will cast the right questions to bring them out into the world. What this means is that at times you will find your answers uninteresting or even boring and you will just have to hope that the next question or the next produces an answer that grabs your attention. If this doesn’t happen you might want to think twice about making another appointment (always a good idea anyway – to think twice) but you might also want to give it a chance. It is not uncommon for what seemed like uninteresting answers to need a little time to ripen or to work ‘behind the scenes’ which you will know might be happening if your life starts to improve.

And this is the bottom line – if your therapist has done a good job your life should start to improve.

So, apart from the annoyance of being landed with a stupid therapist (and outcome statistics show that for one-in-five of my clients I have been a stupid therapist), what harm is done? None because the Solution Focused Brief Therapist is bringing nothing to the table except his skill at asking questions which the client is the only person who can answer. He brings no ideas of his own about problems or cures so is introducing none of the ‘foreign bodies’ that such theories can carry with them. For him life goes on and each day we put one foot in front of the other. What makes a difference is where we place that foot and always there is a place not yet seen. When there seems like no place to go, a never-before-given answer might just light up that hidden place.

The author is  Chris Iveson, therapist, coach, consultant, teacher, co-founder of BRIEF (The Centre for Solution Focused Practice) in the UK.

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